Boyz in the ’hood.

La Mission

on January 26, 2009 by Cathleen Rountree

“You can take the boy out of the Mission, but you can’t take the Mission out of the boy,” reminds one character to another in the Bratt brother’s tribute to life in the eponymous Latino neighborhood of San Francisco, the multi-ethnic metropolis in which they were born and raised. The film opens up with an affectionate pan of details of one of San Francisco’s most valuable treasures: her murals in the Mission. These vibrant wall paintings are a kind of shorthand introduction to the history, heroes, values and contemporary way of life in this rich district and of its colorful Aztec-descendent inhabitants.

Peter Bratt, who wrote the screenplay and directs his brother Benjamin, creates a microcosm of Chicano life: the striving to maintain family life as the soul of the community, the threat of gang violence, the dangers of excess machismo, homophobia, the gentrification of low-income neighborhoods, interracial relationships, class struggles, alcoholism, spousal abuse. Yet, given this multiplicity of themes, the film never feels overwhelming or moralizing. And it holds every character (even the ones who cause the most destruction and pain) in a circle of compassion. The strength and economy of the script and direction, the powerful performance by Bratt--and the entire ensemble cast--and the significance of the topic, assure La Mission a widely appreciative audience. It’s assured certain success in major urban centers as well as smaller towns across the country with large segments of Latino populations. But the humanity contained in this film reaches beyond solely Latino audiences and interests.

La Mission revolves around Che Rivera (Bratt), an ex-con and recovering alcoholic, who drives a municipal bus, works passionately rebuilding and decorating lowrider cars and, since the death of his young wife many years before, devotes himself as both father and mother to his 17-year-old son, Jesse, a studious, steadfast, honorable young man (on his way to UCLA), who does his best to follow the straight-and-narrow, when many of his classmates endanger themselves and others with drugs and violence.

But Jesse carries a secret and, because of his high standing in the community and his intolerance for people who are different from him, Che (who may symbolize his namesake, another Latino hero) intimidates his son, which prevents Jesse from sharing his true self with his father. One night, Che finds several Polaroid photos showing Jesse in romantic poses with another man—a white man at that--taken at a gay club in the Castro. Che’s violence erupts in response to his son and he kicks the boy out on the street. A neighbor, Lena (Erika Alexander), an African American who works at a women’s shelter, at first quarrels with Che about his use of the sidewalk for repairing his cars, but soon a serious attraction develops between them, and she turns out to be a catalyst for Che’s redemption.

The veracity of the story, the believable dialogue and the utter likeability of La Mission ’s characters ensures the viewer’s emotional investment in the story: we care about these people--their sufferings, failings and triumphs--and we’re rooting for them.

Distributor: Unset
Cast: Benjamin Bratt, Erika Alexander, Jeremy Ray Valdez, Jesse Borrego and Talisa Soto Bratt
Director/Screenwriter: Peter Bratt
Producers: Benjamin Bratt, Peter Bratt and Alpita Patel
Genre: Drama, some Spanish language
Rating: Unating
Running time: 117 min.
Release date: Unset

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